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Four Reasons to Add Kanazawa to Your Japan Vacation

Updated: Jun 22

Cherry blossoms in the foreground with a man steering a barge in the background

Traveling to Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture on central Honshu (Japan’s main island), feels like discovering a slice of untouched Japan.

Steeped in history, the city is a thriving hub for traditional arts and crafts and the cultural jewel of the Hokuriku region – an area that encompasses the Ishikawa, Toyama, Niigata, and Fukui prefectures, bordered by the Sea of Japan to the west and the Japanese Alps to the east. Here, travelers explore beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts, striking temples, and refined museums. Kanazawa is reminiscent of Kyoto, yet there are far less tourists.

It's easy to add a stay in Kanazawa to a trip to Japan – the city is just over two hours by bullet train from Tokyo and about two hours from Kyoto. Plan on spending at least three days in Kanazawa to wander its food markets and museums, explore the abundant nature of nearby Hakusan National Park, and take in its centuries-old architecture, such as the Kanazawa Castle. Here are the experiences to add to your list.

Dine on Fresh Yellowtail and Traditional Kaiseki

Kanazawa rose to prominence under the rule of the powerful Maeda clan, which governed the Kaga domain – known now as Ishikawa – during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. The city’s large samurai community drew skilled craftsmen and merchants, who flourished due to the Maeda clan’s substantial patronage of the arts.

Along with its artistic legacy, the city’s culinary heritage is also revered, showcasing fresh seafood sourced from the Sea of Japan as well as traditional regional dishes such as jibuni, or duck hot pot.

Omicho Market, a 300-year-old covered market that’s a 15-minute walk from the Kanazawa train station, offers a lively introduction to Kanazawa cuisine, with stalls hawking a cornucopia of the area’s prized Kaga vegetables, street-food favorites, confections such as mochi ice cream, and freshly caught seafood. In summer, search for locally grown lotus root, pumpkins, Japanese whiting fish, and rock oysters. Winter is the prime season to sample delicacies such as fatty yellowtail and snow crab.

Create Your Own Kanazawa Ceramics

During the Edo era, local Kanazawa artisans began painting patterns on tableware and objects with lacquer, then sprinkling them with gold or silver dust. The process, known as shikki, symbolized the town’s wealth and influence. Travelers can bring home shimmering examples of shikki from Nosaku, a lacquerware shop and manufacturer in the city’s downtown Korinbo district. Established in 1780, Nosaku also offers a 90-minute workshop where travelers can adorn their own bowls or dishes.

Known for its vibrant colors, bold patterns, and high-quality craftsmanship, kutani-yaki pottery originated in the Ishikawa village of Kutani in the 1650s and was revived in Kanazawa by the Maeda clan in the early nineteenth century. Kosen Kiln, which dates to 1870, is one of the city’s only remaining kutani-yaki ceramics makers, specializing in intricate, hand-painted porcelain. The kiln also offers pottery workshops for travelers.

Immerse Yourself in Japanese Art

Art is everywhere in Kanazawa: in the food, the tableware, and especially the architecture. Wander through the narrow, cobblestoned alleys of the Nagamachi district to the Nomura-ke samurai residence, where the meticulously maintained Japanese gardens and Edo-era architecture transport travelers to the city’s feudal past.

About a ten-minute drive east in the lively Higashi Chaya neighborhood, one of Kanazawa’s three historic geisha districts, the Machiyajuku Wa-no-Jiku experience offers lessons in the artistry and etiquette of the Japanese tea ceremony inside a 100-year-old renovated wooden townhouse.

For a deep dive into traditional Japanese entertainment, attending a geigi, or geisha, performance is a must. The mesmerizing dances and music reflect Kanazawa’s commitment to preserving its cultural legacy.

Experience Gardens, Hot Springs, and More Natural Scenery

traditional onsen in the town of Yamanaka Onsen

A visit to Kanazawa isn't complete without exploring the Kenrokuen Edo-era strolling garden. The lush 27-acre grounds, once the outer gardens of Kanazawa Castle and constructed by the Maeda clan, feature winding stone paths, bridges, fountains and waterfalls. The garden's seasonal beauty unfolds with plum blossoms in early spring, cherry blossoms in mid-April, and vibrant autumn colors from mid-November to early December.

Kanazawa serves as a gateway to the Hokuriku region’s natural highlights, providing easy access to sea and mountain landscapes, verdant greenery, and relaxing hot-spring inns, or onsens. About a 20-minute drive south of the city, Hakusan National Park encompasses some of the highest peaks in western Japan. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to diverse flora and fauna that thrive amid natural springs, primeval forests, volcanic plateaus, and turquoise-hued crater lakes.

A mostly coastal drive takes travelers along the Sea of Japan to the Kakusenkei Gorge, about an hour south of Kanazawa. Grab a photo of its scenic Ayatori Bridge and the Daishoji River before heading on a short walk to the quaint hot-springs town of Yamanaka Onsen, established more than 1,300 years ago.

The town is filled with restaurants, shops selling hand-engraved Yamanaka lacquerware, and bathhouses. Travelers can soak in the mineral-rich waters, completely immersing themselves in Japanese tradition. 

Planning for your exciting 2025 vacation in Japan can start as early as this year to ensure that your choice of activities is available for you and your travel companions' premier experience and maximum enjoyment in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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